Elizabeth watched as the shore neared the ship, sliding a strand of curls out of her eyes. Although her heart leapt to see the coast of England once again, she keenly felt her solitude. This would be no joyous homecoming for the holidays, as was her habit in recent years. Although she did rejoice that her son, Thomas, accompanied her and now slept peacefully in the cabin belowdecks, she mourned the loss of his father bitterly.

Her husband, Brigadier General Richard Fitzwilliam, married her after finding his fortune in India in service to General Arthur Wellesley. He had subsequently followed Lord Wellesley in several campaigns, most recently against the French in the Battle of Salamanca. And while Elizabeth did not at first enjoy the life of an officer's wife, she grew to appreciate it more when she was allowed to travel with her husband, as she had been to Portugal.

She had not seen Richard for weeks when the news reached her that he had been wounded, and she rushed from Lisbon to find him. Elizabeth was later to hear many accounts of Richard's honor and valor as his dragoons outflanked and demolished a superior force, but his courage had cost him his life. He succumbed to his injuries in a field hospital, dying in Elizabeth's arms soon after she arrived. If not for little Thomas, she might have felt her life was over, as well.

She looked up. The white cliffs that loomed ahead, usually so welcoming, looked barren to her. What attraction could England hold for her now, without Richard's companionship? Indeed, she had tarried in Lisbon for more than a month after her return from the Spanish front; she knew it was not rational, but felt as though the fact of his death would only be incontrovertible once she went home alone.

She and Thomas would not entirely lack for material resources, at least. Thomas would inherit his father's property – Chawton House, the charming, small country estate that she had not seen in some years, and the townhouse in London. There would be sufficient funds to maintain those residences for now, but not enough to see Thomas to adulthood. Elizabeth sighed. She supposed she would have to sell the house in London, and perhaps she should let Chawton House for a time, accepting her sister's offer to stay with the Bingley family at Netherfield. It would do Thomas some good to be with his four cousins, and truthfully, it would do her some good, as well.

She sighed again, returning to her cabin to ready herself to disembark.

Elizabeth held Thomas's small hand in hers as they descended the gangplank, too busy minding her footing to notice the coach. When her toes finally touched solid ground, she was startled to look up and see a familiar face, if one she had not seen for some time. She felt her heart jump unaccountably in her chest, as it always did in his presence.

"Cousin," she said, holding her free hand out. "It was good of you to come, but you needn't have made the journey all the way to Dover."

He took her hand in both of his and touched it briefly to his lips.

"Of course I came," he said simply. "Richard would never have forgiven me if I did not care for you in your time of need." Elizabeth felt her heart jump again, and quickly pulled away from his hands.

"Thank you, Fitzwilliam," she said, with a tired smile. "See, Thomas, your kind Uncle Darcy has come to take us home."